Yoga in Postural Adjustment

Written by Sarah English.

One of the dangers of the modern office has nothing at all to do with cliched corporate 'speak,' deadline pressures, or politics. Of all of the mundane aspects of the cubicle, perhaps the most nefarious is posture.


There is a culture that exists in most office workplaces that unknowingly encourages and rewards disregarding physical health. Lunch breaks prohibit a leisurely pace - the standard thirty-minute slot is insufficient for the digestion of even the simplest of carbohydrates. Most communication is carried out using the computer; if one is intent upon productivity, this translates into extended periods of physical idleness, seated at a desk. Rarely are once-hourly walks encouraged, though they are recommended to reduce the incidence of circulatory issues and muscular pain. Most of us would balk at the idea of being seen strolling amongst the departments for ten to fifteen minutes, roughly eight times per day, yet this is precisely what our bodies demand if we are to avoid certain conditions that accompany exposure to unrelenting patterns of (in-)activity.

Some of the most common complaints that a health-care provider will hear involve shoulder and neck pain, discomfort in the lower back, and headaches; in many such cases, inappropriate posture is to blame. As a trainer, I found myself frequently having to begin a series of sessions with a client by correcting for years of improper posture, much of which was encouraged by poor ergonomics at home and at work. Consider the fact that most monitors are placed on desks that sit significantly below eye-level. Consider as well that most of us rest our forearms on the edges of our desks to type.

Given that a sedentary lifestyle is the majority norm in North America, few individuals enjoy developed core strength (loosely translated as development of the muscles that run alongside the spine, and those that we nickname the 'abs'), which leads to forward curling. Testing this assessment can be a useful experiment. As you're reading this article, slowly begin to take note of the orientation of your spine and shoulders. How? Imagine that there is an invisible string tied to the very top of your head. Now, imagine that someone standing far above you is gently pulling that string upward. Move with the 'string' until you can no longer stretch upward. How much of a difference is there between the length of your spine now, and its curvature when you began?

A second experiment (we're using the term lightly) involves your shoulders. While you're sitting, raise your shoulders up, back, and down. Perform each movement slowly and deliberately - up, back, down. When you move your shoulders back, imagine that you are trying to squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades. Does this feel unnatural? In all likelihood, your scapula, or shoulder blades, were initially rounding forward and up, which is precisely the opposite of where we'd like them to be. If the 'up, back, down' has left you feeling as though you're ready for a military march, you know that this seemingly rigid posture is not your everyday norm. That's something that has to change if you're going to correct for postural misalignment.

The third test is one of abdominal strength. Imagine that a string tied to your belly button is drawing it back in toward your spine; while you're imagining this, though, don't forget to breath! This is not designed to measure how long you can remain conscious without oxygen! Once you can no longer draw your belly button in, hold the contraction and continue to breathe. Does this feel noticeably different from 'letting it all go?'

Assuming that you don't have any specific injuries, correcting for improper posture is simply a matter of vigilance, patience, and some gentle exercise. The 'up, back, down' mantra can certainly help, as can the visualization above for sitting up taller and straighter. Don't be discouraged if you require regular reminders, if you consistently have to readjust yourself to sit up taller, to tighten your abdominal muscles, and to roll your shoulders back. Keep in mind, proper posture will not only help to relieve muscle strain that can lead to more serious conditions, but it is an essential part of yogic practice as well. Most asanas not only contribute to proper posture, but are built upon it as a foundation.

Yogic breathing and meditation demand proper postural alignment; imagine how difficult it would be to empty your mind or focus on a drishti point if you're at a stage at which keeping your spine erect is major exercise. Ultimately, it is vital that we respect the simplicity and vital importance of the 'basics' as we strive to achieve our goals. Consider the value of sticky-notes for recording and displaying posture-friendly reminders; examine the height of your monitor and the support of your seat at your workspace. Overall, commit to the crucial, foundational strength required for better health, both mental and physical.

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